LA County Will Go To Court To Try To Force Re-Hired Deputy To Turn In Gun And Badge

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the Sheriff's Academy graduation ceremony in January. (Kyle Grillot for LAist)

Updated March 4, 11:45 a.m.

Los Angeles County officials say Sheriff Alex Villanueva had no right to rehire a fired deputy, calling the action unlawful and saying it exceeded the new sheriff's authority.

At the direction of the Board of Supervisors, the county's Auditor-Controller has stopped paying Deputy Carl Mandoyan and ordered him to turn in all county property, including his badge and gun. Mandoyan had previously been terminated in 2016 over allegations of domestic abuse that included claims he stalked a female deputy.

But Mandoyan is refusing to surrender his badge and gun, according to his attorney, Greg Smith, who called Auditor John Naimo's letter "a political play" by the supervisors, whom he accused of "interfering" with Villanueva's "sole and exclusive authority" to run his department.

Smith also told LAist that Villanueva acted with the apparent blessing of the county counsel's office when he agreed to rehire Mandoyan in exchange for Mandoyan dropping two civil lawsuits he had filed against the county.

A representative of the county counsel's office was present when that deal was struck "and didn't disagree to that settlement," said Smith.

The county counsel's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A hearing is scheduled in L.A. Superior Court Tuesday, where the county will ask a judge to force Mandoyan to give up his badge and gun.

The latest conflict, which came to light over the weekend, intensifies a simmering dispute between the board and Villanueva over how much authority the elected sheriff has on personnel matters.

Mandoyan was a prominent backer of Villanueva's successful campaign to oust sitting Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Within weeks of Villanueva taking office, Mandoyan was back on the payroll.

THE LETTER

In his letter to Mandoyan dated Feb. 28, Naimo says Villanueva is "without the authority" to settle legal disputes, so he did not have the power to bring Mandoyan back to active duty in exchange for dismissing his two civil actions. Under the county charter, only the Board of Supervisors has the power to end a legal dispute, the letter says.

In addition, Naimo notes the requirement that "all classified positions be filled from the current eligible civil service list" which Mandoyan was not on.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, in an interview Sunday, emphasized that Mandoyan's termination was ratified by the county's civil service commission.

"You can't just bring somebody back when that's happened," she said.

A spokesman for Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Sunday she "never believed the sheriff had the authority to reinstate him."

"She is supportive of the action taken by the auditor-controller," said Barger spokesman Tony Bell.

The move sets up a rare showdown between the powerful five-member board and newly elected Villanueva over the sheriff's powers.

Villanueva has argued that his predecessor unfairly fired Mandoyan and dozens of other deputies. He's promised to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to review their cases.

Mandoyan was one of a half dozen "low-hanging fruit," the sheriff said — people whose termination he believed was so egregiously wrong that they deserved immediate rehiring.

Mandoyan served as a key aide to Villanueva during his campaign, working as the candidate's driver and rallying deputies to support him. The sheriff has said Mandoyan's campaign role had nothing to do with his rehiring.

SHARP CRITICISM

Once Mandoyan's rehiring became public, the Board of Supervisors sharply criticized the decision, saying it sends the wrong message to victims of domestic violence.

Villanueva disagreed, dismissing those concerns and suggesting that because the female deputy refused to show up in court against Mandoyan that her allegations lacked merit.

In a written statement released Sunday night, Villanueva called the dispute a "personnel matter" that "is under review and will be decided through the legal employment process."

"While the specific facts of this case are protected under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and civil service procedures," Villanueva wrote, "I can assure that an objective, honest, and fair assessment was conducted before reinstatement. We will let the process continue forward as we work to determine the final outcome."

The Auditor Controller's letter to Mandoyan, dated February 28, states the county informed Villanueva on February 20 that it would stop paying Mandoyan on February 22, but the sheriff "declined to communicate this message to you."

"You are instructed to immediately turn in any and all County property, including your weapon and badge," the letter states. "You are not authorized to serve as a Department employee."

If Villanueva tries to keep Mandoyan, "he would be working for nothing," said Kuehl.

"I have a hunch this is going to have to be settled by a court," she said.

UPDATES:

11:45 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Mandoyan's attorney and additional action planned by the county.

This article was originally published on March 3 at 9:45 p.m.

READ THE LETTER